Better Parents Needed

I’m going to hijack this blog away from my typical expat theme this once to write about a topic dear to my heart – parenting. Well, I guess I can write about whatever the hell I want, this being my blog and all. And parenting and being an expat is not necessarily mutually exclusive. On the contrary.

An article caught my eye the other day: How About Better Parents?, by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times. It basically states that you can beat up on teachers all you want and decry the state of American (and other) public schools till the cows come home, but that it is really up to the parents to ensure that their kids do well in school. And it’s not even particularly difficult. Just reading with your elementary school kids on a daily basis will go a long way.

My first reaction to reading this was DUH! Doesn’t everybody know this? I mean, wherever you have parents who CARE about education, whose highest goal in life is education and lifelong learning, there is NO DOUBT that their kids are doing well in school and beyond. That is why you’ll find so many Asian kids who are top students, and you’ll also find them learning instruments and excelling at them at a disproportionate level. Education is of central importance in most Asian cultures, and therefore the kids strive for it too.

What I like about Friedman’s column is that he shows the research that is behind this assumption. The Program for International Student Assessment (also called PISA) has added surveys to their regular testing program of children in OECD countries, conducting extensive interviews to find out how parents raise their children. And without fail, children of parents who are more involved in their kids’ education, whether it is by reading to them when they’re little or even simply asking them how their school day went and overseeing their homework, far outperform the other students on the PISA tests.

I’ve often said that I believe it almost doesn’t matter where your children go to school, because at the end of the day you, the parents, determine their later success in life. Not by being a drill seargant beating the times table into them, but by being role models who value learning and display a thirst for knowledge coupled with discipline from the day they are born. That doesn’t mean I don’t love the school our children go to and they learn a great number of life skills there, but the real key to your kids’ accomplishments lies with you and you alone.

Which sort of ties this back in with being an expat. Most expats I’ve spoken with spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over their kids’ schooling and whether they’ve made the right decision moving them across an entire continent or hemisphere into a completely different school system with possibly a new language involved as well. And school choice is often the one thing holding a family back from making any bolder moves like going to an even more exotic country or extending their stay beyond the agreed-upon two years. But if you think about it not in purely academic terms but through the lens of lifelong learning, the question of the right school is really not so important as the values you as a family project. Your kids will learn a ton of things from an international move, useful, important, even life-changing things, provided education and learning and open-mindedness are at the heart of your parenting.

If you don’t do anything, please find a way to read to your children every day. Some of the fondest memories from my childhood are the ones where my brothers and I would pile up on the bed while my mother read to us, transporting us into a magical world for away. And she didn’t even have Harry Potter on her bookshelf – a series that makes it so much easier nowadays, because it’s ┬áhard to find a child that doesn’t like Harry Potter, or an adult who doesn’t enjoy reading it aloud, for that matter. If you need more suggestions, check out the Read-Aloud-Handbook by Jim Trelease.



What better time than Christmas to start gathering your family for regular reading sessions around the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa? Or, if you’re here in South Africa, lounging on the patio with a few cool drinks?

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